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The Autobiography of a Super-tramp (Oxford Paperbacks) [Paperback]

William Henry Davies , George Bernard Shaw
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)

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Book Description

17 April 1980
William Henry Davies's working tour of the USA brought him into contact with the harsher side of American life and some of its more remarkable characters. Back in Britain, though resident in various doss-houses, he became the darling of the London literary set. Bernard Shaw was stunned by the power of this unvarnished narrative, that still retains its impact and insight. This book is intended for students of literature between the wars; America in the Depression.


Product details

  • Paperback: 254 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; New edition edition (17 April 1980)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192812939
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192812933
  • Product Dimensions: 19 x 12.6 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 602,123 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

W. H. Davies (1871-1940) is a renowned Welsh poet, most famous for his poem Leisure (1911). After experiencing many setbacks, he published his first book, The Soul's Destroyer and Other Poems in March 1905. Subsequent volumes included New Poems (1907), Nature Poems (1908), Farwell to Poesy (1910), Songs of Joy (1911), Foliage (1913), and The Bird of Paradise (1914). He wrote few works of prose; Autobiography of a Super-Tramp (1908) is his most famous. He married in 1923 and his last place of residence was Nailsworth, Gloucestershire. In 1926 he was awarded an honorary degree from the University of Wales. In 1938 a plaque in his honour was unveiled in Newport. The famed 70s rock band were, indeed, named after Davies' book. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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I WAS born thirty-five years ago, in a public house called the Church House, in the town of N-, in the county of M-. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting read 30 Dec 2008
Format:Paperback
This book was first published a hundred years ago (1908) and I got it as a set English literature text book at grammar school in about 1964, so lots of people must have read it at about the same time. The author, who really wanted to publish poetry, left Wales in about 1890 to travel around the United States, doing so as a tramp and in doing so meeting many other tramps. He writes about them and their lifestyles, the jobs they undertake or avoid, their ways of begging instead of working and fascinating asides, such as the reasons for spending the winter in prison - how to get in and so forth. He made some eighteen crossings of the Atlantic, many of them looking after cattle in transit and he lost a leg in a train accident whilst trying to hitch a ride to the Klondyke gold strike. By 1907 he was living day to day in a doss house in South London. He'd spent all his money getting a few anthologies of his poems printed and, on spec, he sent one to George Bernard Shaw with a note inviting the famous writer to buy it for half a crown, or bin it and think no more of the matter. Shaw liked it, ordered more copies and persuaded Davies to write this book, to which Shaw contributed the preface. There are vignettes in this book for students of social history - Davies was in the wild west just after the railways were built, so he saw Texas in the raw; he also experienced the degradation of the British Poor Law system of dealing with those who had no means of support in the days before the welfare state was created. His real charm, however, is the beautiful character descriptions of the various eccentrics that populate his pages. I am really pleased to have become re-acquainted with this old school book. I just wish I could remember what else I had to read at school!
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Amazing Glimpse into the Past 27 Feb 2009
Format:Paperback
A fascinating insight into a tramp's life at the end of the nineteenth century. Davies who went on to be recognised as a popular English poet writes in a leisurely laid-back style, his paragraphs are long but easy to read. He tells how he tramps his way across America, camping outdoors in the summer, how he rides on trains without paying, finds free bed and breakfast in US jails in the winter, compares the generosity of the US housekeeper with the terrible poverty he finds in England. He crosses the Atlantic on cattle boats and meets a great variety of rogues and vagabonds throughout his travels in both countries.

This book, long out of print, has now been reprinted on A4 size paper and in fairly large print. It is therefore particularly attractive for readers whose sight may not be as good as it was.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Before Kerouac and Orwell! 2 April 2010
Format:Paperback
The Autobiography of a Supertramp describes WH Davies' adventurous life as a drifter and how he came to be a published author. Davies, from a poor labouring family, abandoned his apprenticeship as a young man and in a spirit of adventure took to the road. He spent the next 15 years tramping across North America and England.

Taking to the road in late Victorian England, an age when people could, and did, starve to death was, to say the least, a difficult choice. Davies is thrown back on his own resourcefulness, the support of fellow tramps (who teach him essential begging and survival skills) and the charity of the general public. This spirit of charity seemed more evident in America and the contrast between the openness and abundance of life in North America and the condition of chronic want that pervaded England was particularly marked. No wonder people wanted to emigrate!

Davies himself came across as a remarkably enterprising and optimistic person. He makes the best of every situation and even the loss of one of his legs in a railroad accident doesn't really deter him. Davies quietly gives up on his dream of making it to the Klondike and returns to tramping in England. Here, he eventually makes a home, of sorts, for himself in a common lodging house and he begins hawking his self- published poems around London.

In writing this book Davies has recorded, at a time when working people had few opportunities to speak for themselves, the authentic voice of the Victorian poor.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read 14 May 2010
Format:Paperback
I have just finished this book and thoroughly enjoyed it. It is a simple story of his day-to-day life, nothing sensational, no fast-paced action, but a lovely story by a very gentle man.

I would recommend reading the preface, written by G. Bernard Shaw, after finishing the book rather than before as it is a great way to round off the story and would have given too much away about a certain event had I read it before.
I feel the book can be summed up in this extract from the preface: "I have read it through from beginning to end, and would have read more of it had there been more to read. It is a placid narrative, unexciting in matter and unvarnished in manner, of the commonplaces of a tramp's life. It is of a very curious quality."

A lovely book. Highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Art of being a tramp 10 Mar 2013
By Tudor
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A time gone by. Excellent read, and I love his choice of lifestyle, he is obviously a very capable chap who just decides to reject the rat race and adventure.
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Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Birthday Present for Friend who has enjoyed the book. She had heard about it at School many years ago and was interested to read it.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic
A timeless classic last read by me 62 years ago and still a pleasure to re-read now! a a a
Published 4 months ago by Alimk
5.0 out of 5 stars *****
I loved this book for its simplicity, and the insights into a different, long forgotten world. One to read again.
Published 7 months ago by Billie Bumble
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderfully written old world gem
A great read and so wonderfully written given the authors life. Definitely worth a read - the introduction alone sells itself
Published 7 months ago by Sarah
4.0 out of 5 stars seminal reading for some
bought for memory's sake - memories of a book that affected my life as a youthful adventurer many years ago.
Published 7 months ago by Alex
5.0 out of 5 stars An old classic.
A fascinating depiction of life on the road in both America and England in the early part of the 20th century. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Good book
I ordered this book for my husband who read it at school 40 years ago and wanted to read it again. He was pleased to be able to get a copy and was not disappointed.
Published 20 months ago by V. Treloar
4.0 out of 5 stars W H Davies
My book did not arrive by Post Office as promised, but Amazon quickly sorted the problem and the book arrived next day by first class post. Thank you
Published on 30 Aug 2011 by Bakewell
5.0 out of 5 stars The Autobiography of a Super Tramp
Absultely spell binding book - will read again and again. Highly recommendeed. Great delivery service from vendors.
Jeff G
Published on 7 Mar 2010 by Mr. Jeffrey Gardener
5.0 out of 5 stars Nomad or Yesmad?
The sheer flagrusiveness of this guy is remarkable. His hurgislation of the written word defies all lophological scrutonomy. Buy it, read it, love it.
Published on 7 Feb 2010 by RC Islander
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